Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Candy and Childhood

Beyond my fascination with foods, two interesting areas of exploration that vary considerably regionally and culturally are booze and candy.  Candy in particular makes for excellent exploration due to the fact that it is widely available and cheap.  Sweets are one of those things that connect us to our childhood, and if we have moved to a different area, it can bring back memories to enjoy a candy from our childhood.  It certainly does for me.  The demand for those sweets means that they are available to transplants all over the world.  Despite the fact that I grew up in the US, there are a few foreign candies that bring me back to my childhood.  I grew up enjoying White Rabbits right alongside Baby Ruth bars.  One of my favorites, however, was Botan.  
This has all the necessary elements to inspire fascination in a child:
1. Prize in every box.
2. Completely different eating experience from any American candy
3. Packaging unlike any American candy (a candy gets points for foreign characters too)
4. Strange ingredients

Now, as with other treats that provide a prize (Cracker Jacks), Botan has changed in this department over the years.  It used to be that you got a little plastic toy in every box.  Then they moved to a tattoo, and now, it's a sticker.  Cheap, but still effective.
The packaging, originally with what I believe is some mythological Japanese character, now features a cat.

The ingredients have changed over the years as well.  The flavor still remains fairly similar, the first ingredient was once "Millet Jelly".  As a kid, I had no idea what this was and rather than look it up or ask someone, I came up with my own idea.  Millet sounded to me like a fish, so it must be fish jelly.  Turns out that's not the case, but it did inspire wonder at the time that fish jelly could taste so good.  Today the first ingredient is a less inspiring "glucose syrup".

All of the above elements of fascination bow to the main draw of this candy: the wrapper.  Each piece of candy is individually wrapped in a plastic cellophane.  This is not the wrapper I'm talking about though.  While unwrapping the cellophane, you find another wrapper, a thin second layer of clear wrapping.  This second wrapper is made from rice and is edible.
To a child, this is true shock and awe.  I can imagine this additional layer of packaging was introduced to keep the candy from sticking to the primary wrapper, but however this solution was reached, it totally makes the candy.  This inner wrapper is, in many ways, similar to the film mints that are all the rage as trade show giveaways today, but without the flavor.  The candy itself is enjoyable, though not remarkable.  It has a faint citrus flavor with the consistency of a hard gummy candy.  

Want to try Botan?  It's generally available for about $1 a box.  You can get it through Amazon or a slew of other sources here.

Care for something that hits your sense of nostalgia?  Type "vintage candy" into a search at Amazon and you can find anything from Necco Wafers to Wax Lips.

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